Frauke Meyn and Erika Kinast from Skateistan talk local skateshops giving them discounts, skateboarding as a tool for development and the changes they have seen with girls/women in skateboarding. Frauke is the programs manager at Skateistan; based in Berlin, she first began working at Skateistan as a volunteer in Kabul. She followed that up by devoting another 6 months at Skateistan Cambodia as the project advisor. She now works for Skateistan full time and has been involved and active in boardsports for 10 years. Erika first got involved with skateboarding in 2004, and she put her good skills and knowledge to use in Skateistan in Afghanistan, working as a volunteer. She is a born Canadian but is now based in Berlin, working as the fundraising coordinator at Skateistan whilst completing her MA in English Language, Literature and Culture.
When and why was Skateistan started up?
Frauke Meyn: Skateistan began as a Kabul-based Afghan NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) and is now an International non-profit charity providing skateboarding and educational programming in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Pakistan. Skateistan is non-political, independent, and inclusive of all ethnicities, religions and social backgrounds. As soon as Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich dropped his board in Kabul in 2007, he was surrounded by the eager faces of children of all ages who wanted to be shown how to skate. Stretching out the three boards he and a former girlfriend/aidworker had brought with them, “Ollie” began dedicating himself to the creation of a small skate school in Afghanistan. A group of Afghan friends (aged 18-22) who were naturals at skateboarding shared the three boards and quickly progressed in their new favourite sport—and so skateboarding hit Afghanistan.
The success with the first students prompted Ollie to think bigger: by bringing more boards back to Kabul and establishing an indoor skateboarding venue, the program would be able to teach many more youth, and also be able to provide older girls with a private facility to continue skateboarding. On October 29, 2009, Skateistan completed construction of an all-inclusive skatepark and educational facility on 5428 square meters of land donated by the Afghan National Olympic Committee. The indoor section was graciously built by IOU Ramps. Skateistan has emerged as Afghanistan’s first skateboarding school, and is dedicated to teaching both male and female students. It aims to build indoor and outdoor skateboarding facilities in which youth can come together to skateboard: here, they forge bonds that transcend social barriers. Here, they’re enabled to affect change on issues that are important to them.
Have you noticed changes with girls/females in skateboarding since Skateistan started?
FM: Skateboarding is used as a tool for development because it can overcome boundaries and borders. When you play sports, all are basically the same. It does not matter from which background you are, if you are rich or poor, if you are from different ethnicities, if you are a boy or a girl, it all comes down to the sport. Also with skateboarding you gain self-empowerment. If you want to learn your individual trick, you have to set a goal, have an aim and train for it so well until you can accomplish a trick that may seem impossible at the beginning. When you can do the trick, you will know what you have achieved directly with the result. This helps a lot with self-empowerment. We offer separate classes for boys and girls in Kabul because girls simply feel more comfortable that way. They can practice without interruption in a very private environment. For girls it is often the only opportunity to be physically active. Many have never done sports before; it is a unique experience for them to see how their bodies feel in motion. Since skateboarding was unknown in Afghanistan, we have an advantage: it is not considered a men’s sport like it is in many countries. From the very beginning we took great care to involve girls and offer them the same opportunities as the boys. Afghan society has reacted very openly to skateboarding, many are very curious.
How has Skateistan gained popularity and become acknowledged all around the world? Has there been much press coverage?
FM: One huge advantages was certainly the fact that the idea was very unusual – the combination of Afghanistan, girls and skateboarding. I think also outstanding is that in the development field, more classical sports such as football, basketball, volleyball are often present. But young sports such as skateboarding are often not part of the sports in the development world.
Do you skate? How did you get into it?
Erika Kinast: Yes, I started skateboarding in about 2004 because a boyfriend I had had was into riding bmx, and I was often hanging around the skatepark. I thought that skateboarding looked like a lot more fun, so I started to do that on my own.
When you first started, did you get much support from guys?
EK: Yes, I grew up in a small city, and one of the older guys at the skate shop knew that it must be hard for me, so he starting giving me deals on skateboards. I was totally oblivious though, I just thought everyone got a deal, which in retrospect I really appreciate. In a lot of ways the men around me encouraged me, and kept me skating. I haven’t ever had a super negative experience because I was a woman. The only thing that bothers me is that often expectations of your progression as a skateboarder are really low.
Have you met a lot of female skaters who have had difficulties to get recognition as a girl in such a male dominant sport?
EK: Yes and no. In my experience it has been easier to get exposure as a woman. When a lot of women I know have gotten to certain level, then a lot of people have gotten excited about them and they have been featured in magazines and videos. That said, I think that is more something that has happened in the past couple years, and once you have some exposure, I think for any skateboarder, male or female, it’s really hard to keep being featured in magazines and videos consistently, but it is definitely harder as a woman. At big events like the x-games for example, if there wasn’t female media outlets likes the “Girls Skate Network”, then most women skateboarding wouldn’t even get to watch the women’s contest. It’s definitely not always as accessible as it could be.
Over the last 40-50 years, since Patti McGee became the first female pro skateboarder, how do you feel the industry has changed when it comes to women in skateboarding?
EK: That’s hard to answer. Most women who are skating, with the exception of a few legends like Cara Beth Burnside, haven’t even been skateboarding long enough to know how the industry has changed over time. Since I started skateboarding, the amount of women skateboarding, and at a higher level has increased dramatically. I see more and more women getting paid and taken on tours, and getting coverage in media.
In your opinion, why do you think men in board sports have generally achieved more recognition and support than women? Do you think maybe it has something to do with the stereotype of women needing to be ‘feminine’ and therefore they can’t skate and be lady-like at the same time?
EK: Men in skateboarding have definitely achieved more recognition, but that said, in my opinion there just hasn’t been enough women skateboarding to really break into the mainstream in most places. Skateboarding is a big industry now and I think it is only a matter of time before there is more development for women. I understand why a lot of girls don’t start skating, sure, it is intimidating when there is already so many guys skating and a lot of them that are really good, but a lot of the women who are skating are also not pushing things the same way the men are. Of course, part of it has to do with image and old fashioned points of view of what women are capable of, but the image aspect is more and more apparent for men as well. There are very few female oriented companies, few media outlets, and few girls who are actually producing good photos and good footage. It takes a community to develop a scene, and women have to have a strong presence there to help it along. At Skateistan in Afghanistan, it is harder for us to include girls but we go the extra mile for them, and that was because everyone at Skateistan, men and women, always wanted to have both genders involved and the staff has always worked together to achieve that.
What can be done to create more support and acknowledgment for women in skateboarding and board sports in general, for them to become equal competitors with men?
EK: I think firstly it will just take more women to start skateboarding—to see other women and think “hey, I can do that”, and then to take the next steps getting involved in the industry. The more women skating the higher the level will become and the more people there will be that are interested in watching. Take Lynn-z Adams Hawkins Pastrano for example, she pushed women’s vert skating so much already and she’s young, or Marisa Del Santo whose street-skating in the zero strangeworld video blew pretty much every skater away, and I’m sure there is a whole new generation of girls that are inspired by them the way I was by Elissa Steamer. If women are frustrated about not having photos in a magazines, then get together and make your own magazine. Get a friend to film you and try and get sponsors—basically be proactive if that is what you want. Of course, there are a lot of women who don’t get the coverage they deserve, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any opportunities or that opportunities cannot be created for oneself.
Do you think that if male pro skaters gave public support to women in the same sport there would be further interest and backing from skate teams and organisations? Or do you feel you do not particularly need the support of male skaters to gain impartiality in skateboarding?
EK: I think a lot of men do give their support, and there is also a lot of men who aren’t really interested either way. Of course it helps when people in the industry, who have money and resources support women, but I think there are very few men who are actually opposed to having women involved. I think most men just don’t even think about it, but when they see a photo, like the recent two-page spread of Lizzie Armanto in Thrasher magazine, they’re like “wow! Amazing” and they’re supportive. I think a stereotype that is untrue on both sides and it’s hard to overcome that. The idea that women can’t really skate, and the idea that men in skateboarding don’t support them at all—neither one is true. I know it is incredibly hard for a lot of women who skate, and I won’t pretend it wasn’t hard for me at times, but I don’t know that I necessarily think there should be a totally separate “women’s scene”. Once there are more women skateboarding and they make connections with other people in the industry, male or female, then there will be more opportunities for other women. Until then it is up to whoever loves skateboarding to take the extra effort to get more girls on a board.
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- Nina Hoogstraate